In countries and cultures across the Middle East and Central Asia, Nowruz (or Newroz, or Norouz or Nauroz or several other variant spellings that shift from city to city across Asia) is an ancestral festivity marking the first day of spring and the renewal of nature. Nowruz is a Farsi word, with “Now-” meaning new, and “-ruz” meaning “morning light” signifying the coming of a new day. Today Nowruz is the main celebration for many people of West Asia. It is also the beginning of the official calendar for the people of Iran and Afghanistan. The calendar, based on the Sasanian solar calendar and perfected by the famous mathematician, Omar Khayyam.
The origin of Nowruz is not exactly known. It is estimated to be about 3,000 years old and it is rooted in Zoroastrianism. There are many different stories, fables and myths that tell the story of Nowruz or serve as its foundation. It is claimed that this tradition dates back to the saga of Kawa, the blacksmith. As per the Kurdish mythology, Kawa Asinger bravely ended the tyrannical reign of King Zahak a.k.a Dehak on this day.
Above a small town in Mesopotamia, the land between the two great rivers Euphrates and Tigris, and tucked into the side of the Zagros Mountains, there was an enormous stone castle with tall turrets and dark high walls. The castle was cut out of the mountain rock. The castle gates were made from the wood of the cedar tree and carved into the shapes of winged warriors. Deep inside the castle lived a cruel Assyrian king called Zahak. His armies terrorized all the people of the land.
All had been well before Zahak’s rule in Mesopotamia. Previous kings had been good and kind and had encouraged the people to irrigate the land and keep their fields fertile. They ate food consisting only of bread, herbs, fruit and nuts.
It was during the reign of a king called Jamshid that things started to go wrong. He thought himself above the Sun god and began to lose favour with his people. A spirit called Ahriman, the Evil seized the chance to take control. He chose Zahak to take over the throne, who then killed Jamshid and cut him in two.
The evil spirit, disguised as a cook, fed Zahak with blood and the flesh of animals and one day as Zahak complimented him on his meat dishes, he thanked him and asked to kiss the king’s shoulders.
As he did so there was a great flash of light and two giant black snakes appeared on either side of his shoulders. Zahak was terrified and tried everything he could to get rid of them.
Ahriman, the Evil disguised himself again, this time as a physician and told Zahak that he would never be able to rid himself of the snakes and that when the snakes became hungry Zahak would feel a terrible pain, which would only be alleviated when the snakes were fed with the brains of young boys and girls.
So from that dark day onwards two children were chosen from the towns and villages that lay below the castle. They were killed and their brains fed to the hungry snakes.
Since the snake king began his rule over the kingdom, the sun refused to shine. The farmer’s crops, trees and flowers withered. The peacocks and partridges that used to strut around the giant pomegranate trees had left. Even the eagles that had flown high in the mountain winds had gone.
There lived below the king’s castle a blacksmith who made iron shoes for the famous wild horses of Mesopotamia and pots and pans for the people of the town. His name was Kawa Asinger. He and his wife were weakened by grief and hated Zahak as he had already taken 16 of their 17 children.
One day, the order came from the castle that Kawa’s last daughter was to be killed and her brain was to be brought to the castle gate the very next day. Instead of sacrificing his own daughter, Kawa sacrificed a sheep and had put the sheep’s brain into the wooden bucket. And no one had noticed. The wooden bucket was then slowly lifted by two guards and taken into the castle. The brains were fed to the two hungry giant snakes that grew from Zahak’s shoulders.
Soon all the villagers heard of this. So when Zahak demanded from them a child sacrifice, they all did the same. Like this, many children were saved and they were sent under darkness to very far and high mountains, where no one would find them.
On March 21, Kawa along with people’s solidarity eliminated the Assyrian tyrant Zahak and liberated the people. He then climbed to the top of the mountain above the castle and lit a large bonfire to tell all the people of Mesopotamia that they were free.
With the light of dawn, the sun came from behind the dark clouds and warmed the mountainous land once more. The flowers slowly began to open and the buds on the fig trees burst into bloom. The eagles returned and flew on the warm winds amongst the mountain peaks.
To this day, on the same spring day every year, March 21, (which is also Vernal Equinox) people dance and leap through fires to remember Kawa and how he freed his people from tyranny and oppression and to celebrate the coming of the New Year. Newroz Piroz Be! Happy Nawruz!
Postscript: March 21 also happens to be my birthday! 🙂
Images are from internet